EDITORIAL: Will the T button sap PR's power?

The media has always been wary of the press release. Now, it's got a whole lot more to worry about with PR Newswire's introduction of a T button. Short for 'transaction,' this little knob will allow the consumer or investor to go shopping directly from the press release, ordering products or even buying stock from a specified online brokerage.

The media has always been wary of the press release. Now, it's got a whole lot more to worry about with PR Newswire's introduction of a T button. Short for 'transaction,' this little knob will allow the consumer or investor to go shopping directly from the press release, ordering products or even buying stock from a specified online brokerage.

The media has always been wary of the press release. Now, it's got a whole lot more to worry about with PR Newswire's introduction of a T button. Short for 'transaction,' this little knob will allow the consumer or investor to go shopping directly from the press release, ordering products or even buying stock from a specified online brokerage.

The functionality of the T button looks remarkably similar, from our first view, to the now old-fashioned hyperlink. Most press releases now include a Web site address, and possibly specific pages. Where the T button appears to differ is in the interactivity it brings to the electronic document, with pop up windows directly on the press release - so in effect the press release can become more like a mini sales brochure than an information resource.

The implications of the interactive press release are many: a blurring of the divide between advertising and information, the marginalization of the media, and the empowerment of the consumer are some.

But the driving force behind this change appears lost on most of the media. In The Wall Street Journal, Brian Steinberg concluded that this change had been brought about because of Regulation FD. 'The (regulation) frees players to add a little panache to the traditionally dry corporate missive,' he wrote, now that 'the 15-minute head start which wire services received' has been abolished.

In truth, what is bringing about this change is not Regulation FD, it's the Internet, which for some time now has allowed corporations to communicate directly with customers through corporate Web sites Consumers are increasingly interested in hearing from corporations directly - without the media's spin, commentary and omissions - and the evidence of PR Newswire is that they feel they can make the decision for themselves.

Not surprisingly, many PR practitioners are excited by the implications of this development. They talk about the empowerment of the consumer.

What they conveniently don't talk about is the empowerment this brings to the PR industry, which has the opportunity to communicate directly with the customer through its chosen medium of 'news'.

But the PR profession would do well to think through the implications of this empowerment very carefully. If we follow this concept of the interactive press release through to its logical conclusion, it is not hard to see why journalists complain so vociferously about the poor quality of today's press releases - the absence of news values, the focus on selling at all costs.

If the news release becomes nothing more than a sales document, or a brochure, it's more than just the press releases which will be fatally undermined - the very value that PR brings to the table, the power of third party endorsement, will have gone - and press releases will be written by copywriters and direct mail specialists.

The media tends to regard the press release as its personal property - to be interpreted, twisted, spun or copied as it sees fit. The PR industry hasn't always been comfortable with that, but it needs to keep it that way. So, when you're asked to do another rewrite to plug another sales point; and when you can't find any news values left in that release, stand up for your profession.



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